New Year, New Opportunities

2019 was an eventful year for me.  My last blog post was in August and in it, I mentioned two milestones — the upcoming Connected Health Conference, as well as my excitement and gratitude for being offered the role of President-Elect at ATA, the preeminent organization focused on virtual care adoption.  Since then, I have even more news to share.  After 26 years of fostering innovation and coordinating telehealth across the Partners HealthCare system, I find myself facing an exciting new beginning as we enter 2020.

Partners has made a significant investment in digital health and we have outstanding leadership in Dr. Alistair Erskine to lead and consolidate all digital health and data efforts across Partners, as part of a new five year plan for digital health.  The operational programs that I oversaw under the Partners Connected Health umbrella have been consolidated with others from around the system to create a unified, focused team.  Within this framework, these connected health activities now fall within a new a patient experience initiative at Partners and are now referred to as virtual care.  Dr. Lee Schwamm, an energetic, bright and extremely capable physician, will be providing medical leadership for our virtual care initiatives.  I’m pleased to be a senior advisor to that effort and help Alistair, Lee and the team in any way I can.

In addition, elements of the program we referred to as Partners Connected Health Innovation have now merged with the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Center for Innovation and Digital Healthcare.  My role there will be announced soon, and I look forward to working with this impressive group.

I also have several other initiatives that I am very excited to move forward, but more on all that in a minute….

As I look back at 26 years of progress in Connected Health, it is exciting to see things we dreamed of come true.  We’ve made progress, but there is still lots of ground to cover.  According to the recent JD Power 2019 Telehealth Satisfaction Study, roughly 10% of consumers surveyed in 2019 utilized some sort of telehealth for their own care, and 37% did not know whether they have access to a telehealth service.  On the provider side, adoption is even slower, with only about 16% of physicians using telehealth in some part of their practice.

In considering this path, I referenced the American Medical Association (AMA) framework which breaks adoption barriers into four questions:

  1. Does it work (what is the evidence base/what is the quality program)?
  2. Will I get paid (reimbursement concerns)?
  3. Will I get sued (liability concerns)
  4. How do I integrate it into practice?

With that context in mind, I am delighted to share with you the programs and activities I am undertaking as part of the next chapter of my professional career. As President-elect (and after May 3, my title will be President) of ATA, I am very pleased to work with its CEO Ann Mond Johnson and her staff, the board of directors and executive leadership to accelerate adoption of telehealth and virtual care, and tackle many of the challenges outlined above.

I’m also pleased to announce that as of January 1,2020, I became Editor-in-Chief of Nature’s Digital Medicine Journal, which publishes high quality peer-reviewed research in all aspects of digital medicine and virtual healthcare.  As editor of this prestigious journal, I will focus directly on shoring up the evidence base, to guide innovation and healthcare transformation, while providing a platform for encouraging authors to attack challenging problems in the field.

I continue to co-chair the AMA’s Digital Medicine Payment Advisory Group, which is squarely focused on payment.  We’ve been able to move several new reimbursement codes through the CPT process and continue to advance these efforts. Lots of work still to be done in this domain.

I am also energized, as a member of the AAMC’s (Association of American Medical Colleges) telehealth committee, to create tools that will enable medical schools and residency programs to integrate telehealth into the training of future practitioners.

We are still working to bring back the Connected Health Symposium as a Partners HealthCare event, which we hosted for or 13 years (2003-2016), and then co-produced the past three years with HIMSS/PCHAlliance.  Look for more information to come on this.

As in the past, I will continue to serve as an advisor to several companies, and recently accepted invitations to sit on a number of corporate boards as well.

And last, but not least, I need to get back to more regular contributions to this blog.  It will no doubt be a busy, challenging and rewarding new era in my professional career and I invite you to, once again, join me for the ride!